The Toronto-based Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival opens Thursday with the world premiere of “A.rtificial I.mmortality,” which explores advancements in AI, robotics, and biotech through close encounters with neuroscientists, AI developers, transhumanists, robot-creators, and visionaries who are pointing the way toward post-biological life.
Director Ann Shin spoke to Variety about her new film—one of 13 features in the festival’s Canadian Spectrum juried competition—and chatted up the next projects of Fathom Film Group, the female-led production company she founded in Toronto in 2006, and which is now represented by APA in the U.S.
“A.rtificial I.mmortality” is produced by Fathom Film’s Erica Leendertse and Hannah Donegan, with Shin and Gerry Flahive as executive producers, and in association with Canadian streamer Crave, a division of Bell Media Inc., with funding from the Canada Media Fund and Rogers Cable Network Fund.
Earlier this week Variety learned that the producers have been talking with distributors, and that a deal for world rights excluding North America would likely close in the early days of the festival.
“Making a documentary about a fast-moving technology is like trying to catch a shooting arrow in the air,” said Shin, whose previous Hot Docs films include “My Enemy, My Brother” (2017) and “The Defector: Escape from North Korea” (2013).
Shin began her investigation into the 21st-century-style pursuit of immortality a few years ago, when her father’s faltering memory prompted her to wonder if the essence of the human mind can be replicated to create a digital version of ourselves.
“The merging of humans and machines isn’t coming, it’s here,” Shin says. Since most groundbreaking AI work is done on servers, which doesn’t make for great visuals, Shin spends quality time with robots, including Erica (a conversational android created in Japan) and Bina48 (a chatty cybernetic companion, the “mind” of which is modeled after the African-American spouse of its multi-millionaire creator). Shin also visits scientists who are growing brain organoids that can be wired up to control the movements of simple robots.
In the film, Shin speaks with both the real and recently launched digital version of Deepak Chopra, both of whom are taking part in tonight’s extended Q&A, one of four free live streamed discussions presented at Hot Docs this year.
“AI is so advanced that it’s not only out-thinking humans, it can mimic our emotions and our intuition. When I was interacting with Digital Deepak I had this irrational feeling of guilt when we were going to shut it off.”
“Although it’s been around for a while, AI is still a bit like a new car— you’re distracted by the dashboard and gadgets, but you really need to see the road to know where you’re headed. So I’m offering a view of the horizon.”
As for Fathom, Shin says that Chloe Sosa-Sims’s “Hunting in Packs” is now in post production and will be gunning for a festival launch later this year. The feature doc follows three female politicians from different countries who represent different ends of the political spectrum—Jess Phillips (Labour, U.K.), Pramila Jayapal (Democrat, U.S.), and Michelle Rempel (Conservative, Canada).
The company also has two documentary feature projects in development: “Dark Flower” is a character-driven vérité film exploring how social equity is the main issue behind cannabis legalization; and “The Painting,” directed by Laura Friedman, which traces a family from the Holocaust to the present through the story of a mysterious painting.